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What Climbing Has Taught Me About Design

March 11, 2015

Since middle school, my only hobbies outside of art and design have been watching TV, running (out of necessity because I love to eat), and cooking (also out of necessity because I love to eat). I only started rock climbing about a year and a half ago, but has quickly become my favorite hobby outside of visual art. It's great exercise, a lot of fun, and a great way to meet new friends.

Even though rock climbing has almost nothing to do with art, I've still been able to apply a lot of the lessons I've learned climbing to make me a better designer.

Have patience and be persistent.

When I first started climbing, I really sucked. Since I’m the kind of person who is easily discouraged when I’m not good at something, for the first year I only occasionally went climbing on the weekends. It wasn’t until I accepted my ineptitude and made the commitment to climb at the gym three times a week before I started to see noticeable improvement.

I think by now we all know in our heads that we have to be persistent and patient when it comes to improving our craft as designers, or anything, really.  But it's another thing to apply those qualities to your life. Since I started climbing I think I've realized that improvement comes slow but it will come if I keep at it and work hard enough.

Knowing the lingo helps.

Tufa? Jugs? Mantling? Flagging? Barn door? BOOM! When you know the lingo, you seem less like a gumby (a new and inexperienced climber), and more importantly, you can take better advice from experienced climbers.

If you haven't already, familiarize yourself with design jargon. Yes, it's nerdy, but it'll come in handy when you ask about a colleague what they think about the "counter" rather than "that hole in the 'a'".

When you’re stuck, ask for beta...

After I was climbing for a while, I built up the strength to take on more challenging routes that involved more advanced techniques like mantling and heel hooks. When my own strength and intuition wasn’t enough to get me up a route, I would often ask my climber friends for beta (advice on how to complete a climbing route or crux sequence) or watch them climb the route.

When I’m stuck on a design, I shouldn't be intimidated to ask for help from one of my experienced designer friends. I really should ask for critique more often especially from colleagues that are  outside of my office.

...But not everyone can use the same beta.

At the same time, beta from a  6'1" climber doesn’t work so great since I stand at meager 5’4”. In those situations I assess my strengths (flexibility and balance) and weaknesses (power and reach) to figure out my own beta.

Designers can have a wide range of skillets so sometimes advice can be hard to apply to your own work or situation. In those cases, you must take their advice with a grain of salt, and assess your strengths and weaknesses before applying them to your project accordingly.

Don’t be afraid to fall.

What about you? If you're a designer, do you have a hobby totally outside visual art that you've learned from? If you're a rock climber, what other areas of your life have you applied your skills to?

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